It all began with two words: “Hey Christine.” That was Christine’s student teaching mentor and future co-coach of the CocoNuts, Dave Thompson, asking her if she wanted to go to Phoenix to check out “this robot thing.” Little did she know that her life was about to change forever!
In the fall of 2007, Dave and Christine started the CocoNuts with seven freshmen boys, one sophomore girl, and zero clue what they were doing. Much to their surprise, that squirrely team qualified for the FTC World Championship after only two weeks with the robot kit! That trip to Worlds completely changed the trajectory of the CocoNuts because they saw there the power of FIRST to transform lives and communities.
After helping to facilitate huge growth in FIRST LEGO League in Flagstaff, Christine was contacted by FIRST and asked to do the same with FIRST Tech Challenge in Arizona. In 2009, she and Dave became the Program Delivery Partners for FTC in Arizona, and the CocoNuts became the program organizing sponsor. Christine jokes that her role as Partner means her job is to send a lot of emails, but to her it’s really about building the FIRST community in Arizona and delivering a memorable and high-quality experience for all teams. She’s an avid and enthusiastic FIRST volunteer, working at over a dozen events annually as master of ceremonies, volunteer coordinator, judge, or any role that needs to be filled. As the non-technical coach of the CocoNuts, Christine works with the ‘Nuts on outreach, marketing, publicity, mentorship, service, professional development, fundraising, building community partnerships, and advocacy. At the 2019 Championship, she had the honor of sharing the stage with Dr. Woodie Flowers during the FIRST Showcase, sharing the story of the CocoNuts with sponsors, volunteers, and field staff.
Prior to becoming a teacher, Christine worked as the challenge course director for the Willow Springs Girl Scout Camp, and spent a summer at Space Camp in Huntsville, Alabama taking students through simulated astronaut training. As the Physics and AP Physics teacher at Coconino High School, Christine sees her role in education as facilitator of discovery. She uses modeling and inquiry to bring physics to life for her students, and integrates engineering into her classes by having her students build cardboard boats, pasta bridges, homemade musical instruments, kaleidoscopes and more to allow them to see the practical application of physics concepts. She takes over 100 students to Six Flags Magic Mountain each year to allow them to experience physics full scale. In 2019 as part of Flagstaff’s Lunar Legacy celebration, she was the master of ceremonies for a NASA Downlink, in which students got to talk live to an astronaut on the International Space Station!
Though she’s been honored with numerous teaching awards in her career, the Woodie Flowers Award is the most meaningful because it came from a beautifully written nomination essay (full of excellent physics jokes) from the CocoNuts. They wrote:
“Christine Sapio is a champion for change, an innovator of equity, and a Constant Positive force. Sapio spearheads and improves dozens of programs in STEM education for thousands of students. Since 2007, she has coached our team and taught AP Physics in the Coconino Institute of Technology. In physics, she taught us that “Force times a Distance is defined as Work''; Sapio's Work is developing a culture of Gracious Professionalism throughout the entire region.
Since she became the Co-Affiliate Partner for AZ and the now independent NM FTC programs, Sapio selflessly took the challenge with her partner-in-crime, David Thompson. Her work ethic, admirable dedication, and passion for STEM resulted in the rapid growth of FTC in the region.
She always pushes for the highest quality possible. During the pandemic this meant bringing her Electric Positivity and passionate energy to our closing ceremonies, and consistently making plans for improvements so we could capture the fun of an in-person event, safely online. This effort was incredibly effective as AZFTC was rebuilt to 64 teams, compared to 71 teams before the pandemic.
Sapio is a strong believer in empowering others, lighting a spark within all she interacts with. She encourages members of the team to pilot their own projects, and take initiative. From learning to program using physics and calculus, to planning and running their own STEM fair. While she never gives us the answer, she inspires us to research and have our own “Eureka” moments. She never fails to find the Potential in all of her students, directing our Energy to overcome challenges and reach Escape Velocity. She can make the quietest of “Nuts’” into some of the most eloquent and verbose, teaching them to present in front of state legislators to advocate for FIRST and STEM education, never losing sight of her passion and enthusiasm for STEM.
Whenever there is an issue, whether related to robotics or our personal lives, she is always willing to put her work and her own problems to the side. She has an ear that listens, a shoulder to cry on, and a hug to make us feel better.
Our team has concluded that her Megajoules of Energy could power an entire city: with a touch of chocolate she could power the world. Whether it’s the end of a 12-hour build session, or the end of three days of volunteering, Sapio accomplishes every task with a smile, spreading her love and appreciation to galaxies far, far away. Her dedication to our personal growth encourages us to expand beyond our horizons: building the next generation of engineers, scientists, and leaders. As a result, every single “AlumNut” has attended college. With her help in finding and applying for scholarships, we have earned over $1 million to fund our education. Sapio’s Work is measured through her enthusiastic, encouraging, and empathetic Force for change across the Distances of Arizona and beyond.
We love you Coach SPAZ, our lives would have never been the same without you!”